Miami Beach Community Church Controversy: Developer Donated $500,000 Before Key Vote

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Touzet Studios
A rendition of what the clothing store will look like when the courtyard is gone
A miracle. A blessing. A prayer answered by god. That is what Miami Beach Community Church leaders call a plan to replace the congregation's historic courtyard with a clothing store. The $100 million deal will save the struggling church, they say, and help ensure it's longterm future.

But preservationists and even some parishioners say newly appointed church leaders have misled their flock, lied to the city, and sold their souls for silver. Most damning of all: allegations that a developer donated $500,000 to the church the day before the congregation voted on the deal.

"The whole thing just stinks," says Neal Deputy, a former MBCC board member who is among those now pressing the city to nix the deal. "The new leadership has taken the church constitution and thrown it in the garbage."

See also: Miami Beach Community Church Is Considering Leasing Its Courtyard For as Much as $100 Million

The small, white church is a rare reminder that South Beach was once swamp and sand. It was founded by the famous developer Carl Fisher at the behest of his wife, Jane. According to her autobiography, the couple were strolling along Lincoln Road - back then little more than a path amongst the mangroves - around Christmastime 1919 when Jane decided the nascent community needed a church.

"Where in hell do you want your church?" Carl asked. When Jane deferred to her husband, he plunged a stick into the ground and said: "This is as good a place as any."

Miami Beach Community Church
A photo from MBCC's HPB application
For almost a century, the church's courtyard has been home to Christmas trees, Easter egg hunts, and bake sales. But Deputy says things began to change when H.E. Thompson was appointed pastor in October 2012.

"I did not vote for him because I knew it was going to be trouble," Deputy says.

An architect and realtor, Deputy had been in charge of the church's restoration since 1996. He had raised $1.5 million and upgraded the building's plumbing, electrical, and fire sprinkler systems. But he was also a fierce defender of the church courtyard.

"For a while there it seemed like every month someone came trying to sell the church on building a bar or a nightclub or a clothing store in the courtyard," he says. "Every year we didn't have to sell something to a developer we celebrated."

But the new pastor didn't seem to share his passion. Deputy soon found himself disinvited from board meetings. Finally, on December 16 of last year, he read in New Times that Thompson and MBCC's board of directors were considering leasing the courtyard to a developer for $100 million.

The next day, Deputy received a notice from the church for an "educational meeting" that Saturday. When he showed up, he found Thompson standing next to developer David Edelstein.

The pastor announced Edelstein had donated $500,000 to the church. Then the TriStar Capital executive laid out his plan to pay up to $100 million to transform the courtyard into a clothing store. The next day, the congregation overwhelmingly approved the deal.

"Half a million dollars would color some votes, I would think," Deputy says.

(Edelstein did not return requests for comment. The church declined to comment on the $500,000 donation.)

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My Voice Nation Help

uhhh this illustration appears A BIT WRONG. the church has a much deeper set back. therefore, the church will be more in the shade than shown, it is at a different height as well. this just looks wrong to me. the steps look diminutive too... i don't like falsities like this.

Carlos R. Fernández
Carlos R. Fernández

The congregation voted to lease the land where the courtyard currently sits. It's their land and their decision. If they feel they need the funds to keep their church open, then they should do what they feel they must do. I don't attend services there but I am aware that membership has been low. The congregation and the denomination are staunch advocates for social justice issues.

DRAKEMALLARD.0 topcommenter

Yet, their entire political system is based upon bribery. Who can bribe and give the most money to the politician and now, thanks to our illustrious Supreme Court that ruled that corporations have the same right as individuals and that money is free speech, well, we're now being inundated with so much money from the corporations buying the Democrats and Republicans

Julio Diaz
Julio Diaz

I can hear it now," I'm human I'm not perfect". I will say, and the fat lady has sung. I hope New Times would do a story on churches that are FOR PROFIT and NON PROFIT. You would be amazed.

Tony Prieto
Tony Prieto

You whored your 100 year old church built by Fisher, for a few bucks. I'm sure God is so proud of you.

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